It really is amazing how you make friends wherever you go—I was in a store in the mystical city of Safed and met a woman with whom I immediately had a connection. Rivka invited me for tea, after I had bought presents for all the kids, one or two for myself (obviously not on Gonzaga's budget) and then we sat for a while and drank tea with nana (mint). We exchanged life stories and likely will become Facebook friends.
I also found myself in of all places, Livnot u'lihibanot (an orthodox outreach group whose ways and beliefs I have struggled with in the past)—they were going to be hosting a birthright group. While I feel like I am planning a different kind of Israel experience I was curious about the success of this experience among college age students. I talked to a couple of the young interns and waited for the group to come to see how they would be approached and to assess the messages, but they came late and I had a lot to do.
I wandered into the Kosov synagogue (dedicated to Jewish community of Kosov) which was basically empty but I was led to the women's section where I sat and deciphered a long explanatory brochure about why Mt Meron is important for every Jew and about the spiritual power of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Except for maybe two words, I got the whole thing. By the time I was done reading I wondered if I should hop a bus to Meron. But I moved on.
I visited the synagogue where we once prayed for our children. I gave thanks in that same space 11 years later for the gifts of my children who I miss very much.
And then I was about to turn back to the bus station when saw a sign for an artist named Kathleen Wasserman and the gate was open so I went in and made another new friend. I also made glass art and we organized a glass art making mini-class for the students. She is a Reform Jew with a PhD in education and we had more in common than she has with about anyone in Safed. So we talked for a while and I created art which was very fun. Safed is an artist colony and a haven for the Mystics, the Hasids and Chabad, and also a lot of secular Israelis. And they all get along. It's kind of an amazing place. I chanted the Nava Tehila niggun on a rooftop. My time in Israel is coming to a close.
Tomorrow I am going to tour Christian sites with Abraham Hostel to see how they run a day trip and Wednesday I will stay in Tiberias and assess it educationally. I might even bike a little.
Glass Making in Tsfat
Safed or Tzfat, as it is known in Hebrew
The Ramallah day was a lot to digest and then Aaron and I were meeting with Aziz from Mejdi about the Gonzaga trip Friday morning so we worked into the night on Thursday planning the ideal trip, which we have, of course, adjusted now several times. But it was amazing to work with Aaron, to see his life in Muslim quarter of the old city, and to talk about life and politics and the many Spokane connections that we share. We took a physical spread sheet and excel and sat in T'mol Shilshom until almost 11 pm and then the next morning after the meeting with Aziz at the American Colony Hotel—we reviewed the itinerary in Mahaneh Yehuda (I insisted we go to the open market because I really wanted to get there to buy my favorites before Shabbat). So by the time I left Aaron late Friday afternoon, we had a working plan for the Gonzaga trip. I have a bunch of things to add and probably will continue to add until I leave Thursday night but soon we will submit it to Mejdi and see what they can do with it. Then Gonzaga and I will have to make the hard budget decisions.
By the time Shabbat was over I had met three more amazing people who can contribute to the Judaism portion of the study abroad experience and I wondered how we would fit it into the already full itinerary.
Nava Tehila Friday night, not surprisingly, moved me to tears. It was quite strange having prayer leaders I only knew through YouTube. We were not allowed to record during the service but I am attaching my rendering of a great niggun (wordless tune) they did. Look out Moscow, Idaho Jewish Community of the Palouse it's coming to you soon.
Shabbat day connected me with new friends and old and I did a lot of walking in the heat. By the end of Shabbat I really remembered Jerusalem—it's paths and connectors and streets and alleys. Whatever I had thought I might do Saturday night, I couldn't move.
The day of rest turned into even more amazing plans for Gonzaga. Pardes has a social justice program as well as a conflict resolution program and my old friend, Marcie Lenk teaches academic Christian groups through Machon Hartmann Institute, uses texts and discusses power in the state from a Zionist and Orthodox perspective but also academic. I can't wait to hear my colleague, Shannon Dunn have this discussion with her. It's like too exciting for my brain.
And my new friend, Naomi Marmon-Grumet, who runs the Eden Project, has drastically changed the experiences Orthodox women have with regard to purity laws and mikveh. She also agreed to speak to my students on gender and Judaism. And she is married to an old teacher from my days at Frisch. Hello, Rabbi Grumet! So that was Shabbat.
Sunday I left my bags and took the bus which I now have down pretty well to the Israel museum. I needed 2 days and I had three hours. I took so many pictures for the purpose of course planning that my phone refused to take any more. Ancient archeology to modern art, gigantic life-size synagogue models from all over the world that you can walk inside, modern art depicting Palestinian reactions to 1948 and 1967, the Dead Sea Scrolls (I means the actual Dead Sea Scrolls), videos of Israelis' celebrating Independence Day. And don't even get me started on the Hebrew Bible. I could give a semester long course just from one wing. I could barely pull myself out of there but I had to get to Tiberias before nightfall.
Spent a delightful evening with Nava Tehila for Friday Night services. The Ramallah report is coming soon. Am enjoying a restful Shabbat in Jerusalem. Here is some of Nava Tehila's music. Tonight the Shalom Aleichem was particularly inspiring.
Yesterday was an amazing day. I got on a bus in Jerusalem, drove 15 minutes, and entered another world in one way, but in many ways an extension of the very same world I had left. Ramallah has been called the 5 star occupations because it is like downtown Amman, parts of Tel Aviv and chic. I almost forgot where I was for a minute and followed my eyes toward flowered sandals, finding myself saying "cool shoes" to the attractive shop owner, whose makeup was perfect under her colorful hijab.
As one amazing local Christian man told us, if Ramallah is an example of the occupation, everyone would say, "come, occupy us!" He said a five minute drive outside the city would tell a very different story and no doubt. Plus, there is crazy debt and simultaneous building so basically Ramallah is a bubble that could burst economically at any time.
But for me yesterday, I was at home. We ate falafel, toured a kind of lame museum, although for a bible nerd like myself, Iron Age pottery is not really lame.
And an art gallery with lush gardens and an amazing history of Ramallah by Zechran, a Palestinian Christian who can trace his family to the area for hundreds of years. The art museum is in his family home which was by far the coolest place in Ramallah. The temperature was ridiculously hot. The house was built over a hundred years ago and the lower level housed animals, whose body heat world warm the house. Today's house is impeccably clean, no animals, free cool drinking water, coffee and tea, and an art gallery, and a really helpful lecture. Zechran was in a court battle with the ministry because they were dumping garbage on his land and after seven years he won. But they haven't cleaned it up yet. They want him to add this amazing historic gallery to the tourism ministry sites but he refused to play ball as he is angry about his land. Aaron said his frank criticism of the Palestinian Authority is very unique.
Israelis are not allowed officially to enter this region, so Aaron spoke English and we identified ourselves as Americans which, of course, we are. The rules are fairly loose so Israelis do come in but they are not supposed to. Of course Israeli Arabs, Palestinians who have Israeli ID cards, often violate this rule with little consequence as they have family in the West Bank.
I had heard so much about the Kalandia checkpoint. Definitely coming in was easier than going out, but with an American passport I didn't even need to get off and on the bus like many. I don't have major conclusions from this day. I learned a lot. Ramallah is a happening place but everyone is on a salary from a government that gets by largely on donations.
Apparently Hebron has more industry and better economic infrastructure than Ramallah which is could fold like a house of cards. Still, you wouldn't know it from the street.
Itamar, my friend from T'ruah, back in Tel Aviv said something that resonated a lot: a prison is four walls however you construct them. It could be a wide four walls or a narrow four walls but if one's movement is restricted, that's prison. I thought about this as I interacted in Ramallah. You make the best of life in the situation you are in. But no one here is going to get to head to the beach on a hot day. Well, unless you have money or connections...there can be a way. But for the majority of the people they are trapped--in a big area. They can take a bus to Nablus or Bethlehem or Hebron. But unlike me they can't get on a plane and go to Europe or even Haifa. When I see a slogan like "Free Palestine" I don't know what it means and it probably means different things to different people, but I got the sense that freedom is a better way to think about this than demonizing Israel or pointing fingers at who is to blame for the stalemate in peace negotiations.
The point is we can't go on this way as a country. And Israelis know this. The only protests I have seen are right wing Kahane youth marching down Ben Yehuda breeding exclusivism. There is so much to say. But a two state solution is not a solution if there is not free movement. That's a prison inside of a free state. That's not the Israel, I sang about in my youth and that's not the Israel I want for my children. And I know that it means that Israel is going to have change and that it will look different. But again, there is no impetus for the current government to make any of the necessary sacrifices. So there is no end in sight.
I think back to the saying לא עליך המלאכה לגמר... "It is not upon us to complete the work, but neither can we desist from engaging in it." I'm not abandoning this country because I do have the dream of my youth, because there is a vibrant Jewish life and books and prayer and Nava Tehilla and kosher hamburgers. None of that infringes on the rights of others. But with all of that we must not turn our backs on reality. I'm in it for the long haul. What kind of Israel do we want to leave for our grandchildren? Shabbat Shalom
Zehran's Art Gallery
Shops and Streets of Ramallah
Outdoor white limestone building in Ramallah, Arafat's grave where the soldiers stand next to it. Any time a Muslim visits a grave there is a special prayer from the Quran that is recited, not just for special people but Muslims who visit the grave say the special prayer. Aziz of Mejdi tours told me that while Arafat was not loved by his people while he was alive, they love him now. He united the people and they were not divided like they are now between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
While convenient to lots of things, the only problem with my hotel room is that Jerusalem seems to want to stay out a lot later than I do. Still, I feel semi-rested as I get ready to meet native Spokanite, Aaron Press Taylor who will be my guide as I travel to Ramallah for the first time. I would say this is my first entry into a Palestinian city except for the fact that in 1994 on Christmas Eve, several fellow Pardes students thought it would be a good idea to walk to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and get our passports stamped with the special Christmas Eve stamp. Although I venture forth in life, I carry a lot of hesitancy with me. However, though I was nervous I decided to go anyway. I was newly dating Tamar and she had plans to go to a concert so this was not a joint venture.
I forged forward into the dark night along derech Beit lechem and passed by the Kever Rachel or Rachel's road side burial, an iconic site. Now apparently it is pretty closed off from easy access, but I remember thinking "I'm just trotting by a major biblical event." We reached Bethlehem and there were banners everywhere of Arafat but it that was the only thing that felt "Palestinian" to me.
We lined up at the post office at midnight and got the stamp and we walked back. We didn't talk to anyone nor did we sightsee. We came and went. Now more than 20 years later, so much has happened and nothing has happened in the way of progress.
We can call it disputed or we can call it occupation but there is a serious problem and I feel that Israel can build light rails inside of barrier walls but we will never be free until we are all free. So kids can eat ice cream on ben yehuda street and pretend the world outside doesn't exist but I can't pretend. I have to go to Ramallah today to acknowledge the reality of this world that is accordingly to my GPS, 8.5 miles from my hotel.
Jerusalem near the hotel
Elizabeth just composed a new tefilat ha derech while waiting for Aaron.
ברוך אתה ה שומע תפילה (blessed are you hearing this prayer.).
Saying farewell to Tel Aviv. It's the most I have ever liked Tel Aviv. It's an avenue and place for secular Judaism to flourish and yet I still managed to see plenty of Judaica for sale. I even purchased a Sefer Sefer Hahinuch, which I have been wanting for a long time for Derash preparation.
Staying at the hostel was really interesting as it put me in touch with younger travelers both Jewish and non-Jewish. I met a young guy who saw my Gonzaga T-shirt and told me he went to Jesuit high school in Washington, DC and then proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions about Jews and Judaism. He just arrived from 6 days in Jerusalem.
And then I met three kids who extended birthright trips. Some of the Jewish Gonzaga kids have thought about doing birthright before or after the Gonzaga program for next year and I actually think that could be great as they will come away a number of narratives and will be able think critically about a number of issues.
Meetings were very productive while I was in Tel Aviv and I spent the morning reviewing and reflecting on curriculum in a cafe known for activism. I think the cafe is like Tel Aviv's Stonewall. Of course Itamar from T'ruah told me about it.
As I walked back towards the hostel to catch the shuttle to Tel Aviv, I realized I was in the market district of Shul Levinsky. See pictures of nut baskets, spices and house wares. I think it will be a good activity for the students when not in class or touring.
I also found that someone had given me a counterfeit 10 shekel, which someone at the hostel swore was not counterfeit but changed it for me nevertheless.
Ran across another part of the market that is apparently the bead district of Tel Aviv, and those of you who know me, know how serendipitous this was. I controlled myself and spent less than 18 dollars on jewelry making supplies but it was a fun way to close out the Tel Aviv time.
Now I'm on the shuttle to Jerusalem where I will continue to have meetings to prep the trip, check out the Israel museum and have Shabbat.
Aaron Taylor and I are planning to go to Ramallah tomorrow. This will be my first time in the West Bank since the 1980's when we briefly visited Hebron and the caves of the patriarchs and matriarchs. I will write more when I return. In the meantime, I very much looking forward to being in Jerusalem. Shaya and Kim gave me notes for the Kotel Wall.
Levinsky Market District in Tel Aviv
Abraham Hostel gives you a free beer so maybe not the best time to continue with the blog but here goes. After surprisingly connecting with another old friend this morning by phone I headed to Tel Aviv University to the Diaspora Museum--definitely worth bringing the students. Amazing tefilla exhibit!! Heard women's voices davening.
Met with Itamar from T'ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and had a great conversation about Judaism and activism and a viable future for Israel and Palestine.
I had a kosher Thai salad with beef for lunch. What a treat!
Took the bus to Jaffa with Itamar. See the pictures from Jaffa and I even went to part of Mass at St Peters church.
Happy to see the Mediterranean Sea, Arabs and Jews and Christians and Muslims.
St. Peter's Church
Tel Aviv University and Home of the Diaspora Museum
Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein with Tel Aviv friends: Rabbi Efrat Rotem and her fiancé Ophira
I think Abraham hostel may be great for the students: big clean rooms and big hanging out spaces. Can walk to trendy restaurants, the Levinsky market and centrally located. Today I will check out first hand how "central" I find it.
Last night, after a long almost 2 days of travel and one train I took the wrong way, I had the privilege of having dinner with friend and colleague Rabbi Efrat Rotem and her fiancé Ophira. They are getting married in July. They will have a big ceremony here and then will legally marry in the US where Ophira is working on her PhD in Anthropology (University of Illinois, Champagne/Urbana) and when they're back in Israel, the country will recognize them as married but only when they bring lack their legal certificate from the US. Although I will no longer be in Tel Aviv on Friday, Tel Aviv celebrates Pride this weekend. This year we can hope for legal marriage for the LGBT community in Israel. Efrat is the rabbi of a small progressive synagogue that is associated with Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv. Her congregation attracts many "secular" Jews and this coming weekend she will officiate at a Bar Mitzvah. Alas I will be singing my heart out in Jerusalem and will miss it. You can't do everything. Dinner with friends was a wonderful welcome to Israel.
I had a wonderful sleep and am leaving soon for the Diaspora Museum and a meeting with a potential educator for our 2017 trip. I'll keep you posted....
Abraham Hostel, near Rabin Square, Getting Ready for 2017 Gonzaga Students
Tel Aviv Mediterranean Sea Coast
Taking the train from the airport into Tel Aviv. Going to meet Rabbi Efrat Rotem for dinner. Hope I get a little time to recover from trip before that. Otherwise trip was smooth. Had the same flight as Neili from Spokane —she is going to visit relatives in Israel.
On the flight I studied Torah with a chabadnik --sharing our different interpretations of impurity and gender on Lev 12. Fascinating as he was telling me that The chabad interpretation is peshat (the plainest meaning of the verse) using rashi's science from the 12th century. Yet it is interesting to read "a woman who conceives" as "a woman will surely spawn a male" and conversely that a man will surely spawn a female. What goes into the tube comes out last.... Are we even reading the same Torah?? How can we talk about commonality when we can't agree on the simplest understanding of the biblical text? But we can laugh and talk about davening and cell plans and kosher food. Satlow's Polythetic model.
The other guy next to him is American, went to yeshiva on Staten Island and is 5-6 years younger than me. He just moved to Efrat from Baltimore. I am wondering why he moved to Efrat. I asked him if he knew Meir Schweiger from Pardes. He did not. He said Trump is crazy but Obama was bad for Israel. The other guy said Thomas Friedman hates Israel (I was reading from Thomas Friedman's book From Beirut to Jerusalem). I'm wondering why we are spending our energy populating Efrat. It seems crazy to me for a new immigrant to Israel to intentionally move into the West Bank. Some say Efrat is different because it is so close to Jerusalem and it has been around for so long. It's not going to be decided today. And realistically Efrat is never going to the Palestinians.
Dr. Goldstein Leads Gonzaga-In-Israel Study Program
2017 will see the start of a 4 week Israel Study Abroad Program, for more information contact Dr. Elizabeth Goldstein in the Religious Studies Department